what does North Korea want?

Nobody wants to defend the choices of the North Korean government. They have kept their people in abject poverty for decades, worked people to death in prison camps, and not only threatened neighbors with weapons of mass destruction but contributed to the spread of those weapons, increasing the risk to everyone on the planet. And yet…the story we get from the our supposedly free press is very black and white. Are they so completely irrational and random that there is no possibility of negotiation? Or is there something they want, like assurances they won’t be attacked by their neighbors? A group at Johns Hopkins has a blog called 38 North that does nothing but tackle these questions of policy and how the media is covering them. Here is an excerpt from an article from August 15 on the media coverage:

ABC’s analyst uses fancy graphics to show what North Korea’s weapons could do and potential US military responses. There is no discussion, however, of what North Korea is trying to do with its weapons. ​Is Kim waiting to negotiate only after feeling that he has enough military might? Is he hoping to have cover for skirmishes and other kinetic actions across the border with Korea? Does he think he is deterring the US from toppling his regime? Instead, audiences are left with the overwhelming impression that the North’s growing capabilities are simply to start a nuclear war.

This is amped up by the idea that Kim Jong Un is “crazy” and thus presents a unique threat to the United States. But in reality, Kim is not crazy and there are many learned people available to explain this to people like, say, Joe Scarborough, who refers multiple times to Kim as a “madman” in this segment from last month…

Senator Lindsey Graham’s, “If thousands die, they’re going to die over there,” comment is the most egregious expression of the idea that South Korea can be sacrificed in this crisis. When US leaders imply or openly threaten to bring a devastating war to Korea because Pyongyang now may have the potential to hit America with an intercontinental ballistic missile, South Koreans understandably start to view the United States as an unreliable ally and patron. What good is the US nuclear umbrella if it doesn’t stop aggression? What good is the alliance if the mutual prosperity it once supported can be so quickly unraveled?


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